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Carr v. Whittenburg

April 28, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Donald G. Wilkerson United States Magistrate Judge


This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint filed by the Defendants, Larry Whittenburg and Craig Hein, on September 2, 2005 (Doc. 84). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED.


Plaintiff William Carr, an inmate at the Menard Correctional Center ("Menard") near Chester, Illinois, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Carr alleges that, on April 21, 2001, he wrote a grievance against William Spiller, a Menard employee, and mailed it to Defendant Larry Whittenburg, also a Menard employee (see amended complaint ("Am. Compl.") ¶¶ 6-7). In retaliation, Whittenburg wrote a false disciplinary report dated April 27, 2001, claiming that Carr intimidated or threatened his cellmate, Bernard Taylor (see id. ¶ 8). The report was signed by Defendant Craig Hein, another Menard employee, who ordered Carr to be placed in temporary confinement (see id. ¶ 9). Carr suffered a scar on his wrist due to being handcuffed (see id.).

After an adjustment committee hearing regarding the disciplinary report, Carr was ordered to undergo a three-month demotion from A grade status to C grade status, three months in segregation, and denial of contact visits for three months (see Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10-11). During the three-month period, Carr was unable to attend Muslim religious services, lost unassigned pay in the amount of $10 per month, was denied recreation for the first ten days of the three-month period due to segregation, was ineligible for a medium security transfer, and was unable to attend the general prison population's yard recreation (see id. ¶ 11). Also, Carr suffered pain and bruising and scarring on his wrists due to being required to wear handcuffs that were too small for his wrists (see id.).

Carr asserts that Whittenburg and Hein violated his rights under the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution by retaliating against him for filing a grievance (see Am. Compl. ¶ 14). Whittenburg and Hein are sued in their individual and official capacities (see id. ¶¶ 4 and 5). Carr seeks nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief (see id. § V). Whittenburg and Hein have moved to dismiss on four grounds: Carr's claim for compensatory damages is barred under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) by reason of Carr's failure to allege a serious physical injury due to the conduct complained of; Carr's claim for injunctive relief fails because he alleges no ongoing violation of his rights by the Defendants; Carr is prohibited by the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution from maintaining a suit for money damages against Whittenburg and Hein in their official capacities; and Whittenburg and Hein are shielded from suit by the doctrine of qualified immunity. The Court will address each of these contentions in turn.


A. Legal Standard

The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to test the sufficiency of a complaint, not to resolve a case on its merits. See Marshall-Mosby v. Corporate Receivables, Inc., 205 F.3d 323, 326-27 (7th Cir. 2000). When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept as true all factual allegations in a complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in a Plaintiff's favor. See Hentosh v. Herman M. Finch Univ. of Health Scis./The Chicago Med. Sch., 167 F.3d 1170, 1173 (7th Cir. 1999). Because the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure establish a liberal pleading system that requires only notice pleading, a "complaint's mere vagueness or lack of detail is not sufficient to justify a dismissal." National Serv. Ass'n, Inc. v. Capitol Bankers Life Ins. Co., 832 F. Supp. 227, 230 (N.D. Ill. 1993). A motion to dismiss should not be granted unless it "appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). See alsoJohnson v. Martin, 943 F.2d 15, 16 (7th Cir. 1991).*fn1

B. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

1. Carr's Request for Compensatory Damages

As discussed above, Carr alleges that Whittenburg and Hein retaliated against him for filing a grievance by making a false disciplinary report against him, in violation of his rights under the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. See, e.g., Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1009 (7th Cir. 2002); DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 618 (7th Cir. 2000); Babcock v. White, 102 F.3d 267, 275 (7th Cir. 1996); Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139, 1143 (7th Cir. 1988). Whittenburg and Hein contend that Carr is precluded from recovering compensatory damages on his claim by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, which, provides, in pertinent part, "No Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e).

It is well settled in this Circuit that 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) is a bar only to claims for mental or emotional injuries absent a physical injury. "Section 1997e(e), as its wording makes clear, is applicable only to claims for mental and emotional injury. It has no application to a claim involving another type of injury." Robinson v. Page, 170 F.3d 747, 748 (7th Cir. 1999). See also Cassidy v. Indiana Dep't of Corr., 199 F.3d 374, 376-77 (7th Cir. 2000) (holding that, where a prisoner asserted no physical injury, "[a] plain reading of § 1997e(e) tells us that Cassidy's claims for damages for mental and emotional injuries, contained in paragraph one of his 'Report of Specific Forms of Relief Sought,' must be barred, though Cassidy may nonetheless pursue all of his other claims for damages."); Jones-Bey v. Cohn, 115 F. Supp. 2d 936, 939 (N.D. Ind. 2000) ("Section 1997e(e ) merely limits a prisoner's ability to recover damages for mental and emotional distress, though he may still seek injunctive relief or other forms of damages for any constitutional violation he can prove.").

It is likewise well settled that "[a] deprivation of First Amendment rights standing alone is a cognizable injury." Rowe v. Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 781 (7th Cir. 1999). Further, such an injury is compensable through so-called "general damages" or "presumed damages," even in the absence of proof of injury. In City of Watseka v. Illinois Public Action Council, 796 F.2d 1547 (7th Cir. 1986), the court explained that a plaintiff in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 may "not recover damages based upon the 'abstract . . . value . . . or . . . importance . . . of constitutional rights,'" but that an injury to First Amendment rights is one "that [may] be compensated through substantial money damages." 796 F.2d at 1559 (quoting Memphis Cmty. Sch. Dist. v. Stachura, 477 U.S. 299, 310, 311 n.14 (1986)) (affirming an award of $5,000 in presumed damages to a political canvassing company whose First Amendment rights were violated by a municipal ordinance limiting door-to-door soliciting). See also Hessel ...

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